Student Agency

The What

Student agency refers to students taking ownership and an active role within their learning process and community. Schools nurture conditions for student agency in all grade levels from PreK through 12 and in all content areas through:

Providing opportunities for student agency requires all school and community stakeholders to hold shared beliefs in students’ capacity to lead and participate in shared decision-making around their learning process and community.  

Students design their ideal schools during a fishbowl activity at the 2018 Educational Leadership Institute.
Students design their ideal schools during a fishbowl activity at the 2018 Educational Leadership Institute.

The Why

Research has shown that students are more engaged when their learning experiences are relevant to their lives, needs, and interests, and when they are actively engaged in creating, understanding, and connecting to knowledge (McCombs & Whistler, 1997).

Helping students build their capacity to take an active role in their education and develop leadership, goal-setting, problem-solving, and collaboration skills are essential as they pursue their future aspirations in college, career, and community.  

Complex problem solving, critical thinking, and creativity are projected to be the top three skills workers will need according to the Future of Jobs Report 2023.

The Top 10 skills needed to thrive in the workplace in 2020, via the Future of Jobs Report by the World Economic Forum. They are: 1, Complex Problem Solving; 2, Critical Thinking; 3, Creativity; 4, People Management; 5, Coordinating with Others; 6, Emotional Intelligence; 7, Judgment and Decision Making; 8, Service Orientation; 9, Negotiation; 10, Cognitive Flexibility. Report:

The How

Student agency engages learners as active participants in the decisions about how and what they learn and how that learning is assessed.  The instructor’s role is to provide instruction and opportunities for students to build skills and attitudes that foster a culture of responsibility, excellence, and collaboration.  As learners and instructors work collaboratively to build student agency, student voice can be used to inform curriculum and learning design. Strategies for developing student agency may include the following:

More Information on Student Agency

Examples of Student Agency in Action

 Youth-led Participatory Action Research (Y-PAR)

An approach to creating community change through a series of “stepping stones” that include inquiry, analysis, and ACTION. 

p4c Hawai‘i (Philosophy for Children)

An innovative approach to education that engages people in the activity of philosophy.

Hawai‘i Public Health Institute Youth Council

A group of young leaders in high school or college who are ready to FIGHT back against Big Tobacco. 

Hawai‘i State Student Council

Upholding the ideals of servant leadership while working to improve education, life and welfare in Hawaii’s public schools.